Hands-free web surfing behind the wheel

Try not to crash your Phantom Coupe while playing Scrabulous
Try not to crash your Phantom Coupe while playing Scrabulous

Texan telematics company ATX Group has developed an application that allows speech-enabled access to the internet for drivers wanting local searches or even web surfing.

For the first time, Browse By Voice lets drivers simply speak a search phrase rather than having to type into a search engine's query box.

Built on a natural language search platform, drivers can speak normally and don't have to memorize a list of commands. Nor do they have to do a "directed" search, breaking the search into a series of individual steps.

So, when a Google or Yahoo search engine main page is displayed on an in-vehicle display, the user will only have to say: "What's the weather in Slough?"* to activate the search.

Carless talk costs lives

ATX's natural language voice platform should allow drivers to send text messages without typing, compose and send emails, perform local searches, and manage social networking.

Despite this, ATX insists that the interface is designed to "ensure safety for the driver". Although not, presumably, for the pedestrians he mows down while updating his Facebook status.

ATX is currently demonstrating the system to high-end car makers with a view to linking it up with 3G or Wi-Max systems. Expect Browse By Voice to debut on a Mercedes Benz, BMW or Rolls Royce with a year or so.

The system can account for dialects or accents, and adapts to a user's speaking habits, capturing how they pronounce words and what words are used in "specific, real-life circumstances".

All very impressive, until you let slip "Go screw yourself!" during a stressful moment on the motorway. The mechanic's bills can only be imagined.

* It's raining.

Mark Harris is Senior Research Director at Gartner.